Traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to attend African Network For Localization (ANLoc)'s Terminology and Localisation in Africa and Beyond Conference earlier this year. It gave me an opportunity to learn the history of African languages in cyberspace and meet the people behind various multilingual initiatives. The conference brought together language professionals, academics and open source developers to learn about terminology development and localization platforms.
Language is the key for unlocking the potential of Africa. The African Network for Localization (ANLoc) is a non-profit that supports African language technology development. The ANLoc partners were instrumental in the numeration and standardization of 100 African languages. The ANLoc partners and sub-projects developed Unicode fonts, keyboard input systems, translation tools and terminologies for African languages. They also devised training programs for building sustainable volunteer driven localization communities.
The conference featured technical talks, break-out sessions and brainstorming sessions. There were in-depth discussions on the various facets of multilingualism in cyberspace in context to African languages, the challenges of translating computing terms in African languages, the use of machine translation methods and the development of linguistics resources such language dictionaries and terminologies. The conference organizers maintained a good balance of discussions, along with practical hands-on workshops. The size of conference made interactions easier. It was good to meet Mozilla localization contributors from over 10 African languages during this event.
ANLoc's project localized widely used open source Mozilla Firefox web browser in many African languages. The ground realities of mobilizing and sustaining communities in Africa are apparent. Finding contributors is difficult. Most contributors refrain from volunteering due to economic reasons. The overall economic development and access to digital technologies is limited to few regions in Africa. The availability of Internet has improved but the cost is still prohibitively high. I shared my community building experiences from similar resource constrained environments across the world.
Participated in break-out sessions on developing style guides for localization and Mozilla localization processes.
The FirefoxOS localization sprint was organized as part of the event. The localizers worked in groups to translate Mozilla FirefoxOS mobile operating system using Pootle web translation platform.
Talked about Android Internationalization and adding African language fonts and keyboard support to Android. Android currently supports few major African languages: Swahili, Amharic, Zulu and Afrikaans, but more African language coverage is needed. Cheap Android devices are flooding the African market. Today, the first internet experience for many is not on a desktop computer but on mobile phones. Mobiles play a great role in accessing information and even transfering money.
The brainstorming sessions were very interesting. The problems discussed were both at an economic and social level. These problems are similar in nature to the countries where I have been working for the past few years.
The lack of availability of African local content on the internet was a major hurdle. The African diaspora spread across the world and few local governments and non profit organizations were involved in developing local language content. The tide seems to be turning now, with increasing availability of the Internet on mobile phones. Social media and user generated content is now bridging the gap.
This conference gave me a framework for my future activities in Africa. I'll be traveling to East Africa to participate in Tech4Africa Nairobi Tech Day and organize localization hackathons. Such events will help us work on Mozilla Firefox in some of the major languages and help build sustainable Mozilla communities in Africa.